On a February day in 1989, a young woman walked into a show at the National Gallery of Art here, whipped out a pellet gun and fired two shots into a mirrored sculpture in an exhibition called “China/Avant-Garde.” Police officers swarmed into the museum. The show, China’s first government-sponsored exhibition of experimental art, was shut down for days.
The woman, Xiao Lu, is an artist. The sculpture she fired on was her own, or rather a collaborative piece she had made with another artist, Tang Song, her boyfriend at the time. Why she did what she did was not immediately clear, but this didn’t matter.
She had set off a symbolic explosion.
The international press saw a rebellion story. China’s political and cultural vanguard claimed a hero. The government reacted as if attacked. The renowned art critic Li Xianting has described the incident as a precursor to the Tiananmen Square crackdown four months later. Whatever the truth, Xiao made the history books. She was a star.
She is the first and last Chinese female artist so far to achieve that status.